England are searching desperately, frantically for a spinner. There are three weeks before the first Test of the summer and the selectors are still weighing their options about who should succeed Graeme Swann – a part-timer, another off-breaker, a slow left-armer, a mystery spinner if only there were one.
There are plenty of options, which in a way merely emphasises the paucity. The man who played in England's last home Test match and is therefore technically still in possession in this country is Simon Kerrigan. He was a surprising choice to play in the fifth Test of the Ashes last summer and about 15 minutes after his initial involvement he seemed staggering.
As soon as Kerrigan took the ball that morning to bowl to Shane Watson there was an ominous feel to proceedings. Kerrigan looked tiny against the booming Australian giant at the other end. The history of David and Goliath provided cause for English hope but only for about three balls.
Watson came at Kerrigan and Kerrigan had no answer. A full toss was followed by a long hop. From his first two overs in Test cricket, 28 runs accrued. Six of the balls were struck for four. The ball cracked off Watson's bat. From putting his faith in Kerrigan as early as the 21st over of the match, his captain Alastair Cook could hardly bowl him thereafter.
In total Kerrigan bowled eight overs for 53 – he did not bowl in the second innings as Australia looked for quick runs and a declaration – and, one mournful shout for lbw apart, he never remotely threatened. It is pleasing to report he seems fully recovered. He is ready for more.
"No doubt about it, for the three or four weeks after, I was devastated," he said, recalling the occasion. "It's what you dream of doing and it couldn't have gone much worse than it did unless I'd got a first-baller or dropped a few catches. You process it a bit, your mind gets to a more level state, you get over the devastated feeling a bit and learn lessons from it."
It is easy to say that the selectors made a mistake by picking Kerrigan for what was his first match at The Kia Oval. It was plain for all to see. They did not fail because he was not up to the job – which he was not – but because he was not in form.
In the weeks before the match, Kerrigan, comfortably the leading English spin bowler in the Championship in the past two seasons, had been struggling for rhythm. His action was not exactly falling apart but bad habits had crept in, which meant a rampant Australian with points of his own to prove was never likely to be threatened.
"My head was a little bit scrambled when I went into the Test match because of the couple of weeks before," he said. "I still knew that even when I'm not at my best I can still get wickets. Even though I had doubts – but I guess everyone has doubts when you go on to a new stage – I had confidence in myself because I had always found a way when I had been out of rhythm before.
"It was just the way it came about, a combination of circumstances, a perfect storm. I could have easily bowled at Chris Rogers for my first three overs, bowled straight with a leg-side field, got a few singles and found my rhythm. But what happened was that I bowled one ball at him and I couldn't get Watson off strike. I knew he was always going to go hard at me, but I couldn't manufacture the circumstance. I'm sure if I went there again I would have a better way to go about it."
Kerrigan spent the early part of the winter working on the flaws in his action with Peter Moores, then the Lancashire coach and now with England, and John Stanworth, the county academy director. It entailed putting more impetus into his run and changing the position of his back foot.
He followed that by going on the England Lions tour of Sri Lanka, where he finished as joint leading wicket-taker and bowled with real purpose in the third of the three A Tests. It made him feel much better about life.
Were Kerrigan not to be given another opportunity it would be a harsh judgement on a slow left-arm spinner who was 25 earlier this month.
Whether now is the time for him to be recalled may be doubtful but if England think he is their man – and Moores will know him better than any other coach in the land after being with him throughout his county career – it might be wiser to include him sooner rather than expect him to do the business immediately when Australia are in town again next year.
Kerrigan is hardly the beau idéal of a left-arm spinner, being around 5ft 9in with short fingers. But he has guile, aggression, can turn the ball and uses his wrist to garner action. He became a spinner partly out of necessity when the swing disappeared from his medium-pace trundlers as a 16-year-old.
It seems hard to equate the assured individual doing the talking at Liverpool Cricket Club in Aigburth with the apparently diffident soul who was plundered so mercilessly by Watson. Perhaps it is because a beautifully sunny day always puts the assertiveness into a spinner's soul, perhaps because it was at Aigburth where Lancashire did so much in 2011 to win their first County Championship title in 77 years and where Kerrigan took his career-best 9 for 51 to give them a crucial win in their penultimate match. He has had a steady start to this summer.
"There is a shortage of spinners," he said. "England have got to pick the right person, they have got to have faith in the person they're picking. I would like it to be me and I've got to prove that to the selectors."Reuse content